Thanksgiving. After they called my Pop-Pop to the table for the fifth or sixth time the family would inevitably just give up. He'd show. We knew he would. And in turn he knew we knew and that gave him the distinct freedom to watch as much of the remaining few minutes of the first half of the game as he goddamn well pleased. He knew too, that we'd wait for him. Peering on at fresh steam rising off the creamed onions, gravy forming skin in its ancient china boat: we knew that he knew that we wouldn't be scooping or scraping anything onto our old clean plates until he limped on in and took his seat at the head of the table.
The cranberries, in their crystal vessel, would wait.
The supermarket bird, its long journey through years of hassle, of dim wittedness and epic never-ending crowds of tens of thousands of identical morons shoving to and fro, standing under some company farm's pavillion, everyone just waiting for the inevitable same exact death they had no idea was coming down the Holiday Pike; he would wait.
The fancy glasses, who'd spent the past eleven months in dust and darkness, now filled with cheap bitter refrigerated red wine, would wait. Were waiting.
Me, Mom-Mom, my Uncle Mike, my Aunt Connie, my Mom, my brother: Dave, sometimes old ladies from around the way who smelled like Bisquick and pie crust: we would wait. We could wait til John Madden and the Detroit Lions and 50,000 absolute strangers packed into a dome somewhere none of us had ever been said ok, the half is over. Go ahead and eat, Murph.
Then, the old boy would fist his half drunk can of Cream Ale, peel himself out of his recliner slow, and hobble into the dining room to set his bloodshot eyes upon the feast he knew was there.
"Alright! Look at that, huh?!", he'd exclaim. And it was genuine. He loved the look of it all. The food laid out on the special trays and bowls.
"Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah," he'd add, in a faux-high squeak. Then he'd look at me, at my brother. "Hungry,man?"
We'd shift in our seats, little grenades of anticipation exploding in our eyes. "Oh yeah! Starving, Pop-Pop!"
Then, he went to sit down.
But that one Thanksgiving, somewhere between pulling his creaky wooden chair out and landing in it, something weird happened. Some foreign wind blew through the dining room, I guess. And as we all waited patiently for the Patriarch to plop down, his world began to spin a little.
Now, don't get all "Oh No...its a STROKE AT THE HOLIDAY TABLE TALE!" No, no. That's not what's about to happen here. Nothing bad like that. No. See, what happened here, I surmise, is that Pop-Pop's Well-Deserved NFL Three O'clock Holiday Beer Buzz snuck up on the old vet when he least expected it. Right there when he was making his grand entrance into the vast hall of his own damn castle.
And instead of just sitting down, he stopped mid-air above his family seated at the table below him and began to totter. His right arm went out to grab hold of some old navy rope, but it was long gone. He clenched at stuffing flavored air instead. The world slowed down...seconds became hours, then days and weeks. My mouth dripped open as a look of bewilderment settled upon me. Upon all of us.
Pop-Pop was falling into the china cabinet behind him and this was gonna hold up dinner and maybe kill him, too.
The food quit steaming. It froze instead. The piping hot biscuits held their collective breath and turned into hard river stones. The mashed potatoes died inside. The sweet potatoes went sour. The butter shot back up into the cow.
Up in the air, my grandfather held his look as straight as he could muster. But, it was so hard. His eyeballs rammed from their wrinkled-edged sockets. Oh, the humanity. His left arm lifted now, from the back of his chair...the last of the balancing limbs. He was free falling now. Alone above his 18 pound Butterball and his grandsons and his wife of many decades and his children and his lukewarm can of beer, he touched the clouds of scent that had risen from the table below him. My Mom-Mom's face was pure prayer. My Mom's was curiosity. Across from me, my brother watched as if he were witnessing the first snowflakes of his life sifting down from the heavens above.
We were all, in our own ways, both mortified and enchanted.
Pop-Pop's arms flailed now. Like a drowning man in a sudden sea he found himself reaching out for phantom tree limbs or pieces of furniture that just weren't there. The mysterious wind shook him and swayed him as one foot lifted from the ground. It was as if a tornado was uprooting a silo...first a few cobs fly out/then dozens,hundreds/then the whole thing is just blown to smithereens.
All of human history packed itself into our small dining room to watch this knot unravel.
But something happened then. A Thanksgiving Miracle. And just as his tipping back into the chipped old china cabinet was a certainty, just as we were all witnessing it happen milliseconds before the occurrence: the wicked wind up and quit on him. Simply shifted direction, hauled ass, and split.
A look of calm touched my Pop-Pop's straining face. His fate grabbed his crooked body in her sweet strong arms. He steadied. The man caught himself falling out of the vast limitless sky.
His eyes had tears in them. To this day, I still swear on that.
Life kicked back in. Just like that: time swept back over us all. And the glorious steam started rising from the green beans and the potatoes. The biscuits let out their lungs, turned soft once more. The bronzed bird, roasted since dawn, accepted its dour demise and laid back down on my Mom-Mom's silver tray, happy....eager even, to be devoured by this fascinating family.
The butter shot out of the cow.
The stuffing released all of its sagey scent at once, drunkening the room with joy.
The creamed onions all shifted toward the side of the bowl closest to my Pop-Pop, each individual pearl dying to be slipped beyond the lips and onto the battered false teeth of the man they'd just seen save himself from temporary ruin with such average greatness.
Collectively, we were, each of us, overjoyed with the outcome. A family again, after all that had just happened to us, we welcomed Pop-Pop to the table as he rammed his ass into his seat at the head of it all. Just like we knew he would.
Just like he knew that we knew he would, eventually.
Happy Thanksgiving, one and all.